Always Be Outputting

‘The 4-Hour Workweek’ by Tim Ferriss has the following for a quote:

Lifestyle design is based on massive action.

Once you find out what this thing is that you want to always be, or always be doing, every day, that thing that brings you joy and excitement and inner peace and gets you feeling comfortable in your own body at all times, once you get to this perfect flow, just sit on your ass.

Just kidding. Go be active in this state. Of course, you won’t have to remind yourself, since you’ll want to be engaging in your new found freedom, you’ll want to be creating and connecting. Until then, until you’ve reached this ideal lifestyle for you, you are… designing your lifestyle. And what better way to get there than to… rehearse? Act it out! ‘The Secret’ by Rhonda Byrne talks about essentially playing ‘Make Believe’, which in this context is a full-contact, no-holds-barred version of visualizing. So, start creating. Keep creating. Don’t stop believing creating. If you’re an engineer like me, and you enjoy abstract things like system diagrams, then there’s always gotta be an arrow pouring out of the block that is the system of you.

Outputting takes time and energy and focus. The opportunity cost is inputting. This is reading stuff, watching stuff, and generally ingesting stuff that is not directly related to outputting. Want more time to create? Spend less time watching ‘How I Met Your Mother’ on Netflix and reading the New York Times. (You come up with your own version, this one is for me.) Thus, I announce a media fast, for myself. No reading fun blogs or news, very little Facebooking, no Netflix. This’ll give me the chi to work on this blog, creating music, and otherwise working on my Sprint Backlog. Reduce input… increase output. Makes sense, right? (Yes, to ‘output’ feels clumsy to reuse as a verb, but I feel it is generic and abstract enough to cover whatever lifestyle we’re ultimately after; plus, it lends itself to an easy opposite to deal with, ‘input’, unlike to ‘create’. “Spend more time creating and less time… destroying.” Nope. Misses the point.)

What I’ve noticed via continued output, specifically sticking to the discipline of cranking out two posts a week for this blog, is that I find this is getting easier. I feel like my blogging skill is becoming refined. I’m finding my voice. When I started this, I worried I’d run out of things to say; however, through continually outputting, I’ve found I’m evolving this idea of ScrumOfOne. This activity feels better to me, which I take as a good sign.

Always Be Outputting – think of this as your personal version of Always Be Closing.

Visualizing Via Pinterest

Crap, I’m addicted. I mean, I was addicted, but only for the whole evening yesterday.

Pinterest is a site to post linked pictures, organized by ‘boards’. Simple. It’s popular enough that when you’re reading an article that features a picture, right next to those buttons where you can Tweet it or Facebook it (that’s a verb now?) or Google Plus it (Google add it?), you can now Pin it to a board of yours.

What’s so (P)interesting about this?

I now have suit coats because I wandered in Marshall’s and knew what to look for. I knew what to look for because between Sprints (during my Sprint Planning), I read over all of my Product Backlog. Sure, this takes a few minutes, but it’s worth it – it reminds me of the person I want to be via clear (and Independent and Negotiable and Valuable and ‘Estimatable’ and Small and Testable) stories to get there. One of those stories for an awesome me was amassing a collection of suit coats. This wish comes from what I think is a better version of “Dress for the job you want, not the one you have.”

Dress as the man that I want to be.

And how did this get onto my Product Backlog / master-list-of-what-makes-up-a-future-and-awesome-Merrill? I sat and thought, like Pooh Bear, and wrote it down. I visualized and wrote it down. What does Pinterest give me? A way to visualize (and find online or snap a pic of something) and pin it up. It’s a vision board. ‘The Secret’ by Rhonda Byrne covers this, where you work with The Law of Attraction to bring to you what you want, which only really works with some deliberate measure if you know what you want.

So, in the Scrum spirit of things, I’ll be transparent (shameless?) and share my Pinterest boards, so you can see how I use them as vision boards:

Happy pinning!

Don’t Label Me, Bro

Ladies and gentlemen, boys and girls, children of all ages, and all the ships at sea, I present to you a classic. This quote is legen – wait for it –

We are what we frequently do. – Aristotle

DARY! How do you like them apples? This is a favorite of mine ’cause I come back to it when I find myself doing a lot of something I later somewhat regret (plowing through episodes of ‘How I Met Your Mother’), or when I find myself saying I’m something that I don’t think I am (as a Biomedical Engineer, I’m not researching commercially available tissue engineered skin equivalents, I’m testing medical devices), or when I find myself saying I’m something I later realize I actually am (I’m a blogger? I’m guess I’m right…).

It starts harmlessly. You meet a friend of a friend, or start chatting up your neighbor at the cafe counter. Eventually, “Hey man, so what do you do?” blurts out. You answer the question by sharing your day job (or lying) and possibly your hobbies or whatever you do in your down-time.

It ends harmfully. Stop right there. Take a step back. Listen to yourself answering that question. Those things you just said that you do? You are those things.

Picture it this way. Take those things, turn them into job-title-looking nouns, and then list them, comma-separated, below your name on your imaginary business card. You now have a few words associated with your name, letterally supporting your nominal identification. It’s one thing to think about the things you do each day and each week, but to take those same things and turn them into labels for yourself is like transforming the question, “What did you do Wednesday night?” into, “What kind of animal are you?”

After another look at those words below your name on your imaginary business card, how do they make you feel? Do you like them? Do you want them associated with your name? I mention labels, and I hear an instant backlash of, “You don’t KNOW me! I can’t be pigeon-holed into neat categories! I’m more complex than that! I’m more than that!” I’m sure you are. I’m sure you’re a great listener, a loyal friend, a fun-loving step-ish-mother to your fiance’s kid who you see every other weekend. But would you say you do those things with high frequency? Would you seriously say you are those things if you met somebody? Is that how you want to be remembered (besides smelling nice – it’s Vetiver by Givency)?

Those few words… if you don’t like any of ’em, what would you rather they be? Have an idea? I guess you better do that with some frequency. I’ll be honest, it’s harsher for me to read this than it is to write this. So now that I’ve found a life vector I’m happy with, I’ve refined my ‘product’ vision, written up ScrumOfOne stories that I’m getting done, and am focusing on the following platitude, which I’m taking on as more of a platypus an attitude:

Do more and more of fewer things, but more important things, and get better and better at each of them.

Those few words… how do you like yours?

How do you like them apples?

Hell Yeah Test

Let me set the scene. (OK…)

Boston. South Boston. The Southiest part. South of Washington Street. It’s Sunday. There is this open air market. It’s filled with friendly people selling friendly things to other friendly people out in the open air. The air is so open and so airy (what?!) and so friendly that each tidal wash of this pleasantly invigorating life force is an intimate activity, since it’s among friends. (Oh c’mon…) Smiles are artfully and generously cast only to return like a boomerang of love. (Stop it, that’s just ridiculous…)

That’s when I walk into a trap (here we go…), albeit of my own doing. (Oooh, a twist…)

So, you know my thing about bow ties. I finally learned to tie one a few days ago (big whoop, it’s like tying your shoelaces, except around your neck) and have joined the ranks of the dapper, so why not augment my ability to parade my fashionable skill to the masses? (‘Cause nobody else does…) Thus, like a match made in open air market heaven, I happen upon a booth of bow ties. Custom bow ties. Friendly open air custom bow ties. (Snarky comment in three… two…) It was too good to be true. (They were made of bacon?)

In truth, however, it wasn’t good enough.

The bow ties were good, but they weren’t great. They were cool, but they weren’t awesome. They were custom, but they weren’t me. (That thing did not have a hemi.) I stood in that booth looking over the buffet, listening to the owners share their story, thinking about what outfit a particular choice would go with (ninja suit – can’t go wrong), learning how they were made in Thailand (BowTieLand?), feeling them pour on the pressure to buy like the management students they were. The longer I stayed, the more committed and bow tied down (niiice) I felt.

Through a break in the clouds, the wisdom of the commerce gods (Hermes? Mercury?) dawned upon me and I yanked myself away. I realized that none of the bow ties passed the Hell Yeah Test. (Now we’re making stuff up.) I didn’t make this up. I read it in ‘The $100 Startup’ by Chris Guillebeau (and then we made it up):

When presented with an opportunity, don’t think about its merit or how busy you are. Instead, think about how it makes you feel. If you feel only so-so about it, turn it down and move on. But if the opportunity would be exciting and meaningful – so much so that you can say, “hell yeah” when you think about it – find a way to say yes.

So yes, I walked away from taking on another piece of clothing I wasn’t excited about. And why shouldn’t that apply to anything else? Not just all purchases (a new rule I’m imposing upon myself) (oh, what a burden), but also… life? The big things and the small things. The big things meaning friendships, relationships, jobs, picking where to live, voting, other lifestyle choices. The small things meaning what to eat, where to eat, what to wear, what to do in your down time, what to buy, whether to buy a bow tie. Having the strategic and tactical driven by the Hell Yeah Test sounds like a sense of flow, yes no? (Hell yes no.) This test guides you along what excites you – what giddily excites you to your kiddie core. (Heck yes, please.)

Conversely, where possible, this also means don’t do things that don’t pass the Hell Yeah Test, like purchase a bow tie that doesn’t excite you. This thus turns into a very natural selector – in a sense, you’re listening to your body – essentially another version of following your intuition. I happen to like how it’s phrased here a lot better. Don’t you? (Hell Yeah.)

Personal Overhead

This is the post where I share my ScrumOfOne existential doubts.

Do I doubt this whole “Using Scrum for Personal Development” idea? Yes I do, yet I think it’s somewhat healthy. It is very encouraging that Scrum encourages critical thinking by building in a time to be retrospective and thus adapt: choose to amend the set of processes I’m imposing upon myself, which includes killing off all that overhead altogether! There is a question from ‘The 4-Hour Workweek’ by Timothy Ferriss that fits this all too well:

Am I being productive or just active?


Am I inventing things to do to avoid the important?”

I’ll admit that I feel this ScrumOfOne idea is kinda my baby; I really like the idea and have found it key to managing how I purposefully get things done. So that I can analyze if these ‘Scrummy’ practices are a good return on investment, I have turned to these existential questions from ‘Rework’ by Jason Fried & David Heinemeier Hansson:

Why are you doing this?
Is this actually useful?
Will this change behavior?
What could you be doing instead?
What problem are you solving?
Are you adding value?
Is there an easier way?
Is it really worth it?

Man, those questions are straight-up down-right (left hook?) harsh! And I like ’em. A lot. They bleed with the spirit of Getting Real. I had huge plans: waking up at 5:31am to step through the three questions (I even convinced a buddy to be a part of this pre-dawn Scrum), stepping through and documenting a formal Retrospective, writing a PERL script to manage a text-based Product Backlog, reading weekly a set of quotes & phrases & book notes I’ve collected over the years as my personal set of Psalms. These weren’t just plans… I actually did them for a while!

So do I still do all this? Hellz no! These ceremonies were just not sustainable for the long term. My commute schedule changed, so 5:31am turned into an ungodly hour to be awake, although I still have the domain name. My Retrospective currently covers what happened over the past two weeks, how process adaptations fared, and what process tweaks to adopt. My Product Backlog is a Google Doc with the Sprint Backlog at the very top – a text editor in the cloud suffices. My hours-long re-centering read now happens monthly. I pared down the personal overhead to manageable levels based on fruitful returns.

Sure, ScrumOfOne takes discipline, which connotes a struggle, though what I’ve found as I’ve been massaging this system of processes is you can change the nature of the motivation when you see the fruits of your labor. The morning stand-up has turned into 15 minutes of alignment, mental prep, and a generally feel-good start to my day. It’s a trigger to personal finance documenting, reading a few fruity-sounding affirmations, and walking into the day with a purpose. When I do this, I literally walk differently. (I do!) This whole Scrum business is just that transforming.

Thus the system continues, yet only because it started with a habit: a small step: the seed of a fruit I hoped would work out. Upon processes that proved their own worth, I added, modified, and removed (…mostly removed) as I evolved this personal overhead, like trimming a fruit tree.

Alright. Seriously. What’s up with all the fruit in this post? I think I’ll grab a pear…